Earlier in the pandemic, many of my patients’ families asked about hydroxychloroquine, a drug to help regulate the immune system, because an initial trial had shown that it might help people recover and certain people online had run wild with this. I would explain that a large, well conducted randomised controlled trial showed that it did not help and was more likely to cause harm.
Then there’s Regeron’s REGN-COV2 antibody cocktail, the experimental therapy Donald Trump was prescribed when he fell ill with COVID-19. There are two drug companies that have created antibody-based treatments. The idea is that these antibodies can attach to the coronavirus and stop it entering human cells, which the virus needs to do to make more copies of itself. It is an exciting development, especially for older adults who we know are less able to mount an immune response, and it could help patients recover from infection. My heart sank when the US President announced he wanted to make the drug available to all Americans. The problem is, if these medications are released without phase three clinical trials, we will never know if they are truly effective and if they are safe. So far, the only data on whether they work has been from press releases from the drug companies, not peer reviewed trials. I certainly hope that this medication works, but I will await the results of the trials before I start prescribing it.
I think it’s great that people want to learn more about science, but it is important to think carefully about who has written the article or filmed the YouTube video, and what their motivation and funding might be. It is also worth considering their qualifications. Health professionals like me are legally required to give evidence-based advice. People with no qualifications, like Instagram influencers and celebrities are not. And while some use their profiles to amplify public health messages, others are not so responsible.
Why does health advice keep changing?
Around March I read multiple studies on masks and concluded that there was not enough evidence to support widespread use for the public, but now I have changed my mind because more research was done that showed that masks for the public decrease the risk of catching coronavirus and may also decrease the severity of disease. When scientists, doctors and public health officials change our minds about health advice, it doesn’t mean we lack conviction, it means we are keeping up to date with new scientific discoveries.
Read more here.